Pinoy ‘Fab Four’ a highlight of South American cruise

News & Features Travel Jan 11, 2019 at 4:05 pm
The 4Tunes Filipino band were the toast of the ship as far as the largely British passengers were concerned.  Surprisingly, the band has been together for only 5 months at the time of writing.

The 4Tunes Filipino band were the toast of the ship as far as the largely British passengers were concerned. Surprisingly, the band has been together for only 5 months at the time of writing.

4Tunes band cranked out classics from Beatles to disco aboard Marella Discovery 2

By Bruce Gates

Lounging on the pool deck on the Marella Discovery 2, we hear the familiar voice and the tinkling of the bell, “No Card, No Charge! Spread the Love and the Joy!” It’s Phillip, the effervescent waiter from Jamaica, decked out in Bob Marley-style cap and dreadlocks pushing his cart full of pop and spirits. Phillip pours the drinks, never scrimping on the alcohol portion, and keeps on going, dancing along to the on-deck music. At night in the Broadway Show Lounge before the performances he’s in more formal attire calling out “Room Service!”

While Phillip wasn’t an official part of the entertainment crew, he was entertaining and friendly to one and all. He made lots of friends among our group of 12 Filipinos and two Canadians who took a week-long cruise at the end of November from Montego Bay, Jamaica, to Puerto Limon, Costa Rica; Colon, Panama; and Cartagena and Santa Marta in Colombia.

Some of our group ashore in Puerto Limon, Costa Rica, with the Marella Discovery 2 in the background.

Some of our group ashore in Puerto Limon, Costa Rica, with the Marella Discovery 2 in the background.

The Marella Discovery 2 is a smallish ship, at 867 feet long and weighing in at a bit shy of 69,500 tons, which is less than a third the size of the leviathan Allure of the Seas, our cruise ship in 2017. But don’t let that size difference fool you. The ship is plenty big with lots of stuff to do on board for its 1,800 passengers. This is a British cruise line, so there is definite Anglo influence in many dishes, such as bangers and mash, toad in the hole, steak and kidney pie, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, baked haddock, and so on. But there were plenty of other foods to choose from as well — including Filipino food, thanks to our Filipino waiters and chefs whom we befriended and who gave us a Pinoy dinner of rice, pancit and adobo on our last night at sea.

The nice thing about this cruise is that it was all-inclusive, a package from Sunwing purchased through Flight Centre that included airfare and transfers to and from the airport, the cruise itself, the food, booze, and even the tips. This is apparently an emerging trend among a growing number of cruise lines now. The all-inclusive part did come with a bit of a catch, though: Premium beer, liquor and wine brands are extra, and everything is paid for in British Pounds. But the ‘‘inclusive’’ brands of alcohol were just fine.

One highlight of the cruise was a Filipino cover band called 4Tunes, a foursome that could play just about any genre of music, from Beatles to disco. We got to calling them the Filipino Fab Four and became their groupies following them around from venue to venue on board. They even joined us for dinner on the last night for some Filipino eats – a treat for them as well as for us.

Phillip the waiter spreading the love and the joy outside the cruise ship in Puerto Limon.

Phillip the waiter spreading the love and the joy outside the cruise ship in Puerto Limon.

Our first port of call was Puerto Limon, Costa Rica, a small port city of about 55,000 and the centre of the country’s Afro-Caribbean ethnic group. Columbus visited here in 1502, and it’s been an important port on Costa Rica’s east coast since 1870, shipping out bananas and grains to the world beyond. We took a US$15 tour, which mostly consisted of touring a banana plantation and checking out a view of the port from the top of a hill.

Our second stop, Colon, Panama, was near the mouth of Limon Bay leading into the Panama Canal system, which was an engineering marvel when it opened in 1914.

As we neared dusk and our departure from Colon, the brooding sky of an impending distant rainstorm reminded me of a line from Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness: ‘‘In the offing, the sea and the sky were welded together without a joint.’’

Cartagena, Colombia, our third stop, was founded in 1533 and is the only walled city in South America. It’s Colombia`s second-oldest and fifth-largest city with a population of about 1 million and is divided into the old, walled sector, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the new town, whose mostly white skyscrapers greet cruise ships as they sail into port.

Santa Marta, our last stop, was founded in 1525 and is Colombia’s oldest city. It has a pleasant promenade along the waterfront near the cruise port.

None of the cruise ports on our trip were of the packaged duty-free/chain bars/food court variety. There were some stores, and Cartagena had a menagerie that included blue-and-yellow macaws that liked to climb onto our arms and nibble at our jewelry or hats. Rather, these ports were working container terminals, fascinating to watch in action, though decidedly less pretty. Mind you, the scenery beyond the terminals, as seen from the Marella Discovery’s 9th-level Islands buffet restaurant, was always lovely.

 

he city of Santa Marta and the hills beyond as seen from the ninth deck of the cruise ship’s berth in the container port.

he city of Santa Marta and the hills beyond as seen from the ninth deck of the cruise ship’s berth in the container port.

Our group taking a break along the oceanside promenade at Santa Marta, Colombia.

Our group taking a break along the oceanside promenade at Santa Marta, Colombia.

The white skyscrapers of Cartagena, Colombia, come into view as the cruise ship nears port.

The white skyscrapers of Cartagena, Colombia, come into view as the cruise ship nears port.